As many as three Division Series could come to an end on Monday. The only one that is guaranteed to survive beyond today is the first game of the second, and final, four-game day of the 2013 postseason.
A's at Tigers
Start time: 1:00 p.m. ET
TV: MLB Network
Series: Series tied 1-1
Pitching has dominated this series thus far, with the aggregate score after two games standing at 3-3. A's leftfielder Yoenis Cespedes is 4-for-8 with a triple, a home run, two runs scored and two driven in. He is the only player on either team with more than two hits, more than one extra-base hit, run scored or RBI, and with either a triple or a home run.
In Game 3, Oakland, which is hitting .177/.250/.274 as a team in this series, will face the American League ERA leader, Anibal Sanchez, who went 8-3 with a 2.42 ERA after returning from a shoulder strain in early July. From July 19 to Sept. 17, Sanchez went 7-1 with a 2.03 ERA over a dozen starts, 11 of which were quality. The exception, however, came in Detroit against the A's and saw Sanchez allow four runs in just five innings.
Sanchez was stellar last October, posting a 1.77 ERA in three postseason starts, his first playoff exposure. In Game 3 of last year's ALDS, he held the A's to two runs over 6 1/3 innings but the Tigers lost 2-0 to Brett Anderson, who is in Oakland's bullpen for this series. Seth Smith, who is 7-for-19 (.368) with three home runs in his career against Sanchez, homered for the only scoring in that game. The other Athletic with notable success against Sanchez is Josh Donaldson, who has gone 5-for-11 (.454) against him, but all five hits have been singles.
Opposing Sanchez this time will be sophomore Jarrod Parker, who turned in a solid start in Game 1 of last year's ALDS, but was lit up for eight runs in 3 1/3 innings in his only start against the Tigers this year. However, that start came back in mid-April, before Parker turned his season around. He went 1-5 with a 7.34 ERA in his first seven starts this season, including that one, but rebounded to go 10-1 with a 2.68 ERA and 20 quality starts in 22 turns from May 11 to Sept. 10. Parker had only one disaster start during that run, but he allowed seven earned runs in just 4 1/3 innings in two of his last three regular season starts. Austin Jackson is 6-for-11 with two doubles and a home run against Parker in his career with four of those hits, including the homer, coming in that disaster start back in April.
Red Sox at Rays
Start time: 6:00 p.m. ET
Series: Red Sox lead 2-0
Starting pitchers: Clay Buchholz (12-1, 1.74 ERA) vs. Alex Cobb (11-3, 2.76 ERA; 1-0, 0.00 ERA this postseason)
For the second time in as many starts, birthday boy Alex Cobb, who turns 26 today, will take the mound with the assignment of saving the Rays' season. He aced the job in the Wild-Card Game, holding Cleveland scoreless for 6 2/3 innings, improving his record since returning from the disabled list in mid-August to 6-1 with a 2.17 ERA in 10 starts. His weakest start during that run, however, came at home against the Red Sox. Overall, he made three starts at Tropicana Field against Boston this year, giving up just one run in 6 1/3 IP in the first one, back in May, but surrendering nine earned runs in 9 2/3 IP combined in the other two. On the season he posted a 5.16 ERA in four starts against the Red Sox, though he got a no decision in three of those games.
Cobb's task will be all the more difficult in this game because his mound opponent will be Clay Buchholz, who has been nearly as good in four starts since returning from a three-month disabled-list stay due to shoulder bursitis as he was through early June, at which point he was far and away the most dominant pitcher in the majors this season. Buchholz is 3-1 with a 1.88 ERA since his return, including five scoreless innings against the Rays in Florida in his first start after being activated. In 16 starts this season, Buchholz has allowed as many as four runs just once and has completed at least five innings every time out. The batters on the Rays' active roster have hit a combined .213/.310/.279 against him in their careers with just one home run, by Yunel Escobar last year, in 234 plate appearances.
In the first two games of this series, Tampa Bay hit just .194/.292/.355 in contrast to Boston's .352/.413/.577. No Ray has more than two hits or more than one extra-base hit while four Red Sox (Jacoby Ellsbury, Shane Victorino, Dustin Pedroia, and David Ortiz) have three or more hits and all three of Ortiz's have gone for extra bases (a double and two home runs). If the Red Sox advance, it will mark their first trip to the American League Championship Series since 2008, when they lost in seven games to the Rays in what was Tampa Bay's first postseason appearance. They will have also completed the first Division Series sweep since 2010, when the Yankees (over the Twins) and Phillies (against the Reds) did so. If the Rays win, they will send Jeremy Hellickson to the mound to face Jake Peavy in Game 4 on Tuesday, still facing elimination. Coincidentally, the last Division Series entrant not to force a Game 5 was the Rays, who lost to the Rangers in four games in 2011, though that could change if the Braves or Cardinals are eliminated today.